Thursday, June 25, 2009

Activity: Alien Mutant Plants of Doom

This is an adaptation of the puzzle, the "Sword of Knowledge." In the original, a dragon starts with 3 heads and three tails. Using the Sword of Knowledge, the heads and tails must all be removed to slay the dragon. But there are, of course, certain conditions.
I adapted this puzzle to make it colorful and interesting.

Each puzzle requires:
- 6 vines (see component building or instructions with pictures)
- 6 flowers (see component building or instructions with pictures)
- 1 plastic or ceramic flower pot
- small pebbles - Often available in bags at Dollar Tree. Pea gravel and sand can also be substituted. Rough gravel or stones are harder to use.

Cost Breakdown:
$1 Bunch of silk flowers (at least 6 per game) – Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree
$0 - $1 Long bamboo skewers (at least 12) – Taken from my own pantry
$0 - $1 Electrical tape (you can substitute duct tape) – Taken from my garage
$0 - $1 Pot (plastic or ceramic) – Taken from my garage
$0 - $1 Small smooth stones, pea gravel, or sand – Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree
$0-$5 Total Cost

Place the pebbles into the pot. If there is a significant hole in the pot, cover with tape or cut a piece of cardboard to fill the bottom of the pot. Place three flowers and three vines in the pot. Lay three additional flowers and three additional vines beside the pot.

Display a board with the instruction sheet and the grid that shows what happens with each action. Alternately, you can provide the instructions as a large card with the grid on the reverse. To make the card, print the instructions onto cardstock and print the grid on the back. The grid is a helpful aid but it’s nice for participants to read and understand the puzzle before seeing the grid. Whether the grid is in plain sight or available after reading the directions, it’s important to have. It illustrates one way to organize information and make the connection between the written puzzle and a practical list of options.

The Puzzle:
Evil mutant plants of doom have landed on Earth. The plants are very destructive to the planet and mankind. Unless they are destroyed, they will grow until they fill the entire surface of the planet! Each plant has three flowers and three vines. You must destroy the plants by removing all of the flowers and vines. You can remove flowers and vines but you can only remove one or two at a time. When you remove a vine, two vines grow in its place. When you remove a flower, a new flower grows in its place. When two vines are taken off, one flower grows. Taking off two flowers results in no extra growths.

Encouraging Problem-Solving:
This puzzle is a great opportunity to use the strategies “Trial and Error” and “Look for a Pattern.” It’s important that participants are encouraged to dig in and try it rather than standing around thinking too much about it. In this puzzle, making mistakes is a very good way to discover the strategy that works to solve the problem.

The key to the puzzle is to realize that you can’t leave one flower behind, or the plant will never be destroyed. Also, it’s important to see that nothing grows back when you remove two flowers at a time.

One possible solution is:
Remove two vines. (a flower grows)
Remove one vine (two vines grow)
Remove one vine (two vines grow)
Remove one vine (two vines grow)
Remove two vines (a flower grows)
Remove two flowers.
Remove two flowers.
Remove two flowers.

Component Building
Bunch of silk flowers (with at least 6 blooms)
Long bamboo skewers (12)
Electrical tape
Wire cutters

- Remove the blooms from the stems.
- Use wire cutters to blunt the ends of the skewers by cutting off about ¼.”
- Place each bloom onto the narrow end of a skewer.
- Wrap the length of the stem in tape. Start at the top and wind down toward the bottom. Cut off about an inch of tape and wrap around the bloom/stem junction to secure further.

- Remove and discard any leaves left on the stems.
- Use wire cutters to remove individual stems from the bush.
- Cover each stem with tape by wrapping down the length as with the flowers.
- Wrap each tape-covered stem around a pencil to create a coil.
- Attach the coiled vines to the pointed end of the skewers using tape.
- Wrap the length of the bamboo skewer with electrical tape.

I have a PDF available of all instructions as well as the instructions sheet and grid shown here:

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